Wednesday, December 31, 2008

They're BAITING you!

Are you being BAITED?

At home, at work, in life, there are folks out there who want to bait you - to get you all worked up and aggravated or get you to think emotionally, in order to take advantage you one way or another. In some instances, people will bait you just to get you upset, so they can then mock you. It goes on from nearly the moment you are born until you die. People are just swell!

The idea is simple. Folks, if they think rationally, will make rational decisions. Rational decisions rarely result in large profits for anyone. However, if you can get someone to think emotionally, you can rob them blind. It is a game as old as the hills.

The emotions they play upon are basic:
  • greed
  • envy
  • jealousy
  • vanity
  • anger
Who does this? How does this work? And how can you tell if you've been baited?

The scenarios are endless, but here are a few examples which might answer these questions.

People who are baiting you are not only commercial interests (salesmen, companies, etc.) but also your friends, co-workers, employers, and even your own government. They also include the television, particularly the evening news. The basic goal is to get you all riled up so you can't think straight.

1. The Car Dealer - An Obvious Example

For example, take the car salesman. Cars are sold on emotions, not on rational thinking. If people bought cars rationally, they'd all be rather bland looking and bought through the fleet sales office. What sells cars is emotion. If a car looks "sexy" - or more importantly makes YOU look sexy, you are more likely to buy it. In our society, status is tightly tied up with what make, model, and year car you drive. Most folks buy new cars in order to keep up the appearances of what they perceive to be their status and station in life. With all of this in the background, the car salesman has an easy time of it.

Going to a dealer to buy a car is one of the worst experiences in life. Since most people do it maybe a dozen times in a lifetime, it is not something we become skilled at. So right off the bat, you are at an experience disadvantage. Salesmen start by playing up to the emotions you are already pandering to - how the car will enhance your status. One common trick of salesmen is to say "hey, I'll put temp tags on it now, and you can drive it home and show it off to your friends!" The idea being that you are so caught up in impressing people you hardly know that you will forgo negotiating price and terms on the deal. Many do just that.

The other common tactic is the wear-down. Most folks report that a simple sales transaction with a car dealer can take 3, 4, or even 5 hours or more - for no apparent reason. By keeping you hostage in the showroom, the salesman can wear you down. After you've spent an hour or more there, you feel committed, as you don't want to lose the time you've "invested" in the process by starting over somewhere else. In addition, after a few hours, your blood sugar level goes low, and you become dehydrated. You may feel dizzy and lightheaded. You want to leave, and you'll do anything to finish the process, even accepting terms that you would not normally find acceptable.

The only way to avoid this trap is not to step in it. You can't win at the car dealer game, period. Just as you can't win at a casino. Thinking you can outsmart a salesman is folly. In one month, he completes more car transactions that you will in a lifetime. Who has experience on his side? Yet many people, men in particular, like to boast about how they "put one over" on a car salesman, when in fact it was they who were had.

Buying services, online sales, and the like are helpful tools in that game. But the best deal of all is a well-researched low mileage used car. A car than is one to two years old and has 12,000 to 24,000 miles on it can be had for 20% less (or even far less) than the cost of a similar new car - when bought from an individual, not a used car salesman. No matter how good a haggler you are, you can't get a deal like that at a car dealer.

2. Employment Games

But that is merely an obvious form of baiting - in a sales transaction. Employment is another area where people use baiting - often subconsciously (or not) to get ahead of their fellow employees. For some people working in a company, the ultimate goal is to get ahead - no matter how trivial the advancement is, or what the cost involved is, to the company or your fellow employees. Many companies inadvertently (or intentionally) foster an atmosphere of competitiveness among their employees, which may be very destructive to productivity.

For example, Joe Green wants to work his way up the corporate ladder at Acme Corp. The first step is to become department head. But there are other, more highly skilled employees with more seniority above him. His first goal is to get these people out of the way. Joe targets Sam Brown first. He takes Sam to lunch and tells him stories about what an awful place Acme is. Sam never realized that simple Acme Corp. was a cesspool of vice and corruption! Joe keeps hammering the point home over time. Stopping in Sam's office time and again to engage in hour-long bitch sessions about how crummy Acme is. The employees are being taken advantage of, of course, and management is inept and corrupt. The rival Apex Company is a much better place to work, he says. They have a profit-sharing plan!

It doesn't take too long before Sam becomes depressed in his work, as he spends hours every day with Joe, bitching about how bad Acme is. Of course, Joe manages to casually report to his superiors how Sam is bitching about Acme, and Joe also tells other co-workers about Sam's unhappiness. Before too long, Sam is sending a resume to Apex Company, and if Joe's plan works, Sam leaves Acme before too long, and Joe advances another notch. Sam fell for Joe's baiting in a big way.

Of course, if Sam didn't get the hint the first time, Joe has other tricks up his sleeve. For example, Joe calls a headhunter and gives him Sam's name as a potentially disgruntled employee. Now that Joe has worn Sam down with the negative talk about Acme, when the headhunter calls, he'll have easier pickings.

There are other tricks as well. Joe can suggest to Sam that he take on an unpopular and unprofitable project, which, when it fails, will be blamed on Sam. Or Joe can encourage Sam's discontent in front of others, and then show Sam's bosses that Sam is being "disloyal" to the company. There are many techniques.

Are there really people as evil as Joe in the world? Yes. There are some folks who will stab their Grandmother if it meant a $10 a week raise and a corner office. But the Joe's of the world also do these nefarious things very subconsciously. If confronted with their tactics, they will deny they are doing anything intentionally, and in their minds they are telling the truth. Human behavior is a very complex thing, and many of us (most of us? all of us?) do things without thinking of what our real motivations are.

How do you avoid Joe? Well, don't play his game. If he wants to stop in your office for an hour and bitch about work or co-workers or bosses, tell him you have an important project that needs to get done (don't be surprised if he suggests you blow it off). Just say no to Joe, and that means no lunches, no chat sessions, and certainly do not rise to his bait by bitching about work or your bosses. If you get a call from a headhunter, ask them where they got your contact information. Someone had to give it to them - they don't just randomly dial people.

Even if you do hate your job and think your boss is a jerk, there is little to be gained, amend that, NOTHING to be gained, by bitching about it at work. If you really feel that your job is wrong for you, research and find a new one - non-emotionally and rationally. Don't be baited into it by an employee like Joe.

3. TeeVee (and Radio) Games

As I noted in my "Kill Your Television!" article, TeeVee has degenerated into little more than a continual baiting game. They want to get you all riled up so you continue to watch. It is highly addictive.

Haters are an even a better audience than lovers!

In Howard Stern's movie "Private Parts" there is a line that illustrates how this works. The station manager is reading the latest A.C. Nielsen ratings and says :
"50% of listeners LOVE Howard Stern and listen for an average of 1.5 hours. Reason given? They want to hear what he'll say next!"

"50% of listeners HATE Howard Stern and listen for an average of 2.5 hours. Reason given? They want to hear what he'll say next!"
Whether this survey was actually true, it illustrates the twisted genius of Stern and other "shock jock" and talk show hosts, as well as television programmers. Their goal is to get you to listen or watch, so they can sell you, like a pimp sells a whore, to advertisers.

Pleasant music and subdued announcers do not generate an emotional response from listeners. But shocking material gets people to "stay tuned" and listen for yet more outrages.

TeeVee works on the same principle. The 11:00 news starts advertising around 8PM every evening with 5-second "teasers" that are ambiguous and alarming. "A hurricane in the forecast? Stay tuned for news at 11!" Of course in the same time it took them to "tease" you about this, they could have said "no hurricanes in the forecast" or "a hurricane IS forecast". But that doesn't insure someone will watch later on. This sort of teaser is insulting to your intelligence, frankly.

TeeVee shows work on the same principle. They titillate with sex and "controversy" to get you to watch. Fox started this trend with "Married: with Children" and the other networks quickly followed suit. Today, most sitcoms and dramas on TeeVee are about who is sleeping with who. And every year, a new swearword is added to the list of "acceptable" television dialogue, usually on the premise that "people actually talk that way in real life."

If you stop watching TeeVee for a year or so, going back to it is like trying to take up smoking again. You wonder what you ever saw in it - or what others saw in it. While the shows are barely 22 minutes long, they seem to drag on for hours. The latest baiting trend is "reality" shows, which of course, are all scripted. What do they script? Fights. They go on for weeks with juicy and gossipy arguments and tiffs between the contestants - as if these people even know each other or care. But apparently there is something in human nature that likes to hear about such stuff - a somewhat evil and sad part of human nature at that.

Again, the only way to avoid the baiting of TeeVee is to just stop watching it. Spending hours every day sitting and staring at a screen is not a constructive use of your time, and hardly engaging your brain. Once you stop thinking, the brain atrophies and doing things like buying a new SUV sound good (after you've seen countless ads). So you go to the dealer and get baited some more. Controlling TeeVee watching is akin to trying to control a crack habit. You might kid yourself it is under control, but deep down you know you have a problem. After 30-40 years of this, you'll look back at your life as one long sitcom and wonder what the heck happened.

And bear in mind the average American watches 4.6 hours of this junk a day. Not only is it a bad influence on your brain, it is the ultimate time bandit!

4. Is Your Government is Baiting You? Of course they are!

One of the most common forms of baiting is from your own Government and in particular, politicians. You don't get elected these days (or any days) by being quietly competent. You have to be against something or tell the electorate that dire things will happen if they do not vote for you!

Republicans have been using the baiting game for decades. So-called "social issues" such as Abortion, Gay Marriage, Gun Control, Prayer in School, Creationism, and the like are used to get fundamentalist Christians to the polls. The last thing the Republicans want, of course, is for these issues to actually go away. If they did, who would vote for a bunch of crooks?

So after nearly 20 years of Republican rule under Reagan and two Bushes, Abortion still remains legal. The last thing they want to do is actually overturn Roe v. Wade - it would be bad for business!

The National Rifle Association had this problem recently. They have had such a success pushing through their agenda that very little remained to be done. How do you get people to send in their dues and vote Republican if their guns are not in peril? Their solution was to go abroad - they would use gun laws in Canada, Australia, and Europe as examples of "what could happen" in the USA if we weren't careful. Playing on John Birch paranoia, they argued that United Nations "laws" would preempt the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and force us to give up our guns!

Silly nonsense? You bet. The UN has no power at all, particularly when we have a veto seat on the security council. But people believe it, and they send in their dues, buy the DVD's with these paranoid theories, and vote for crooks who would not otherwise get elected dogcatcher without these baiting games.

Lest you think I am being partisan, Democrats play the same game, albeit with a different set of rules. If you vote Republican, women will go back to having back-alley abortions! Right? Well, no, actually not. More than half of all births today are out-of-wedlock. There is little or no social stigma attached to an "illegitimate" birth. The incentive to have a dangerous abortion if it were outlawed is quite overstated. And the risk that abortion will be outlawed throughout the USA is also overstated.

The Democratic playing card is "going back". If you vote Republican, we'll "go back" to the days before affirmative action, before the civil rights act, to Jim Crow, and eventually, slavery will be legalized! This is of course, a ridiculous argument, but they make it all the time. Even mere discussion of the merits of affirmative action are called racist. And traditionally, it has worked in getting out the vote, particularly in minority neighborhoods.

And once elected, our elected leaders bait us all the time to push through projects of dubious merit. The war in Iraq? The economic bailout? Those are just a couple of recent things sold to us on emotional, not rational, terms.

How do you avoid being baited politically? For starters, avoid listening to political pundits, talk show hosts, and the like. Most of these use emotional arguments for what should be rational public policy decisions. Every issue has two sides to it, try to figure out what the other side wants, and why. It may not change your mind, but it will help you understand what is going on. You may find that both sides of an issue are being baited and used.

And most of all, don't be a single-issue or "issues" voter. If someone can snag your vote based on one position on one issue, they have you. Most elected officials do not have control over these issues anyway (which is why Reagan and the Bushes could not outlaw abortion during their terms). Electing your local mayor based on his position on abortion makes no sense - particularly when he has been accused of looting the town treasury.

5. Are your Friends (and family) Baiting You? They Might Be!

The idea that your friends might try to manipulate or bait you seems odd at first. After all, these are your friends, right? People you love and trust, right? But in any group of people, be it a bridge club, a family, or a clique at school, there is a constant competition, which is usually operating far below the levels of conscious behavior. Usually.

As sad as it may sound, people curry favor with one another. People want to be loved, to be popular. And there is a nasty tendency, in any group, to scapegoat others. In many families, this behavior is all too common. Sibling rivalry is a well-known term. Siblings vie to see who can curry favor with the group, and often this means ostracizing one or more members of the family. The situation is often fluid and dynamic, as one member becomes popular, while another is in emotional exile.

Among groups of friends, similar things happen. People turn on one another with a vengeance. Someone who is popular one day is reviled the next, usually because they were popular, which encourages jealousy.

There is an old saying that goes like this: "Intelligent people talk about ideas. Mediocre people talk about things. Dumb people talk about other people." In our society, we are encouraged to be dumb people. "People" magazine and the like are some of the most popular forms of press. "Entertainment News" trumps real news on a regular basis. Reality TeeVee and the like focuses on arguments and disputes and scandals revolving around people. So it is little wonder that most folks today take their social cues from these sources and turn their personal lives into pathetic mirrors of celebrity news.

It is hard, very hard, not to get sucked into this sort of thing. The warning sides are obvious. When you are with a group of people, and the discussion degenerates into a bitch festival about the one person missing, you know you are headed for trouble. The problem with this behavior is that after an hour-long bitch session about Suzie, the next time you see her, it will be....awkward.

And the next time the group is assembled, well, how awkward is it that you all know the horrible things you've said about Suzie and here you all are in her presence? And of course, you'll have to ask yourself this pertinent question: If they say this nasty stuff about Suzie when she isn't around, what are they saying about YOU? Answer: The same sort of stuff.

If interaction with your friends and family is degenerating into baiting like this, it is a sure sign you are spending too much time together. Groups, Cliques, and Families, tend to ostracize outsiders as a means of reinforcing group cohesiveness. However, this "blackballing" of others can make things uncomfortable and difficult later on - and make yourself miserable as well.

The best thing to do is to reduce contacts with folks in a group when it reaches this point. When you see each other less, you will have other, more important things to discuss when you do meet. If the bitch fest starts, you can try to change the subject, but it rarely works, I have found.

And sometimes, you just have to let your membership in such groups lapse. Your own mental health is more important than group membership, and if a group brings you down with their constant harping on others, it is not good for your psyche. Besides, if you leave the group, you give them a new topic for discussion - and a new target for their vitriol. So in effect, you are doing them a favor.

6. Please Hold for the Next Available Operator - is the Telephone Baiting You?

Customer service is another area prime for baiting. We've all spent hours on musical hold, trying to get a refund for a item that was defective, or a charge on our account that was not legit. The systems companies use to handle complaints are very well crafted to get customers to give up on their complaints and go away.

Long hold times and frustrating telephone operators can get you riled up - get you angry. You call and are transferred, and then put on hold, transferred again, and again. Each time, you have to explain your life's story to some clerk or "supervisor" (usually another clerk) in a call center. No one is very helpful, because they are trained not to be. And eventually, you get upset. And that is what they want you to do. If they can get YOU to be angry and unreasonable, then it is easier for them to paint themselves as the ones who are calm and collected. And if they can get you to spend an hour on the phone, chances are, they can get you angry pretty easily.

The best solution to this problem is to write down what it is you want and mail a letter to the company involved. It may not provide instant gratification, but it creates a better paper-trail for you later on, should something like this escalate into a legal matter. Gather together all your documents, write down a statement of facts, and most importantly, set forth what you feel is a reasonable resolution to the problem.

Many folks, being baited by telephone call centers, fail to get their documentation in order. If you don't have the paperwork, they can claim they never heard of you. And if you don't have your complaint in writing, they can claim you never complained.

Offering a reasonable solution is also important. I have read many angry letters to consumer complaint hot-lines in the past, with consumers who want unreasonable solutions to their problems. One fellow's RV breaks down on a trip. Not only does he want free repairs, but he wants his towing covered, the cost of the campsite reservation, a three-night stay in a hotel, including room service meals, and $5000 on top of that for the "aggravation."  The best he could hope for is a free repair.

Put it in writing. Write down the facts. Assemble supporting documents. Ask for a reasonable solution to the problem. And if there is no reasonable solution to the problem, then just move on with life. There is little or no point in "filing a complaint" if it does nothing to compensate you for your losses. Sometimes the best you can do is move on and take your business elsewhere.

* * *

All of these examples above are based on my own experience, as well as the experiences of others I know. Chances are, you've been baited in the past, just as I have been baited. As humans, we cannot help making a knee-jerk reaction to certain emotional stimuli. However, if you can recognize when you are being baited, it is a good first step. Avoiding baiting situations can improve your life from both a financial and emotional standpoint.